Book Plunge: Is God A Moral Monster?

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. Tonight, I’d like to begin a new look at books that are being read here at Deeper Waters and start a new section that will be referred to as a “Book Plunge.” In a book plunge, I will spend one blog reviewing a book that I plan on just giving a brief overview on, rather than one I plan on writing a detailed response to.

First on the list will be one I recently read from our the library by Paul Copan. At this date, it’s his latest one called “Is God A Moral Monster?” with the idea of making sense of the Old Testament God.

This book is highly endorsed on the back and for good reason. Paul Copan has been making a name for himself as a popular apologist. By that, I mean most of his works have not been geared towards a scholarly crowd, but have been written with the layman in mind. Copan is bringing the scholar to the man on the pew and he does an admirable job of it.

Works like this also show how the techniques of the New Atheists are backfiring. The New Atheists wanted to bring atheism to the popular level. Unfortunately for them, their material was weak and only brought forward a surface level objection. It is easy to understand the objections Copan is addressing in this book, but he does dismantle them quite well. If he does as well as I believe he has, then that does render a problem for the atheists as one of their favorite arguments suddenly becomes easier to deal with.

That does not mean it’s entirely answered. It is like the problem of evil as this argument is difficult due to the intense emotion that can often be connected. We can think of the idea of people dying under the order of God and frankly, we don’t really like that, but there’s also the reality that if God is the judge, then we have to deal with that aspect.

I personally find this to make it an interesting point. “If God is not the way I want Him to be, I will not worship Him.” It is not about the question of if God exists or if Jesus rose from the dead, it is about if we like Christianity. Frankly, there are times when all of us who are Christians don’t like Christianity because we’re sinners and when we want to sin, Christianity can get in the way of that. What we like does not change what is true. If God is the judge and does have the authority and power to take life, saying you won’t like it won’t change that. (In fact, you’d think if one thought God was really like that, they’d want to avoid His bad side.)

Fortunately, Copan does show us that while God is a judge, there is a good reason He is judging. God is indeed NOT a moral monster. God is instead patient with us all and those many passages that we don’t understand can make better sense. While I have done a good portion of reading on this topic, I did walk away with some new insights thanks to this book.

In reading it, I regularly thought that Copan has interacted with the atheists that are out there and not just in the scholarly forum, but the kinds that you’d meet on an online forum like TheologyWeb or on debates on a Facebook page. Copan knows not just the objections as Dawkins presents them or a more scholarly atheist like Mackie, but he knows the arguments as the troll you meet on the net.

Questions along those lines are questions like “If Heaven is really better and killed children go straight to Heaven, then would it not be better to allow the killing of children today so that they could go to Heaven?” Copan argues that doing such makes us not the cause of salvation as we are still doing an evil act but God grants eternal life in spite of our evil. It becomes a case of “Let us do evil that good may result.” The killer is neither the cause of the event or responsible for it. It is God acting in spite of that.

Copan also answers the questions of if God is an egomaniac. Most notably in mind throughout in such responses are the “arguments” of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Many of us know of Dawkins’s short little rant against the God of the Old Testament in his *cough* book. *cough* We also recall how Plantinga said we can hope for Dawkins’s sake that God doesn’t return the compliment.

The reader of this book can expect to find questions on slavery answered, as well as questions on the role of women in Old Testament times. He can expect to find information on laws we consider strange, and chapters on the topic of genocide. Copan also closes with a philosophical look at if God is really needed as a basis for morality.

The reader of this book then will walk away with a good defense of God in the Old Testament. Fortunately, at the end of each chapter Copan also includes works that are highly scholarly that can be accessed as well and at the end of the book, for a group that’s studying this book together (Wouldn’t it be great if some were rather than something like “Your Best Life Now” or anything by Joyce Meyer?) there are study questions.

Some criticisms however are first off, that this book contains that great scourge of evil that is one of the greatest examples I know of of the problem of evil called “Endnotes.” If you don’t like endnotes, that will be a problem for you. We can forgive Copan for that of course in light of the great work he’s done.

Also, I would have liked to have seen more information on the social system of life in biblical times. What is the distinction between an agonistic society that is group-oriented rather than ours that is oriented towards an individual basis? I think something like this can help explain much of what is in the Old Testament.

Finally, Copan does refer often to other law codes outside of the Bible, but as I was reading, I was thinking it would have been nice if possible to have seen even more direct quotes of those law codes instead of just being told that that of Israel was better. Every now and then some penalties were given, but it would have been nice to see more of the codes themselves. Of course, we can be told where to read them, but since many will not do so, I think that would have been more helpful.

However, as far as I am concerned, these criticisms while valid are minor compared to the major good that has come overall as a result of this work. In looking at Paul Copan’s book, I think that if anyone is wanting to explain to an atheist God in the Old Testament, that this book is an important read. I highly recommend it.

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5 Responses to “Book Plunge: Is God A Moral Monster?”

  1. Win Corduan Says:

    Good review. Thanks for calling our attention to this resource. And I totally agree with you on end notes!

  2. Paul Copan Says:

    Nick, thanks very much for the review—and for suggestions for the second edition!

  3. Greg Monette Says:

    I haven’t read this review of Copan’s book, but Thom Stark has written a book lengthed critique of it which can be downloaded for free here: http://thomstark.net/copan/stark_copan-review.pdf

    Let me know what you think. I have yet to see someone interact with Stark’s review. I also haven’t looked very hard :)

    Greg Monette

  4. Nick Says:

    HI Greg. I’m going to check and see if my ministry partner already has something. If not, I might look into it.

  5. Tanya Simmonds and Fundamentalist Atheism | Deeper Waters Says:

    […] First off, Simmonds says they don’t mean what they say, assuming that what they say is what is meant to be read by a modern American. Perhaps modern American isn’t the way to read the text. Maybe it should be read in the style of an ancient Jew? If so, it is entirely proper to look at how ancient Jews and people around them spoke. Paul Copan has done an excellent job of that in “Is God A Moral Monster?” My review of that can be found here. […]

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